2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 First Drive Review: Big-powered coupe tackles volcano

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TENERIFE, Canary Islands – The new 2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE-Class has a lot on its plate. Not only does it replace both the C-Class and E-Class coupes, but it also has to fill the role of a convertible. As I experienced on the Spanish volcanic island of Tenerife off the coast of Africa, the CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet is a delightfully comfortable and calm way to take in the scenery. It performs on a level that is well beyond what most drivers will ever desire, but we're not like most drivers, are we?

For drivers like myself who crave more excitement, there's yet another piece in the CLE puzzle: the 2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 Coupe. It takes the CLE 450's 375-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder and increases output to 443 hp and 413 pound-feet of torque. With an overboost function, torque peaks at 443 lb-ft for 10-second bursts. Borrowing from Formula 1, an electric auxiliary compressor contributes to that overboost when needed. On top of that, you get another 23 hp and 151 lb-ft from a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. AMG’s nine-speed multi-clutch automatic is standard along with AMG’s 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system.

The changes aren't limited to the powertrain, either. The AMG CLE 53 gets vertical grille slats and a more rounded nose to blend in with its higher-performance brethren. The hood features more muscular bulges and a functional heat extraction vent. More significantly, the fenders are flared out to cover wider wheels and tires. The rear track is stretched 3 inches while the front gains 2.3 inches. Parked next to the standard CLE, the AMG variant benefits from a more athletic stance that is enhanced by some subtle aerodynamic flourishes. On its own, the AMG CLE 53 is tastefully sporty.

Inside, the cockpit mirrors the standard CLE, which in turn mimics the C-Class' interior with a cascading dashboard, a tacked-on instrument panel, and a large central touchscreen. The AMG does add sport seats with deep side bolsters, faux suede upholstery inserts and racy red stitching. Rounding out the interior differences is a sport steering wheel with a drive mode button that allows for additional sport and track settings.

This all comes together quite nicely on the road. The power increase is noticeable, as are the louder and more inspiring engine and exhaust noises. The ride quality is also firmer, but not to the point where I'd consider it too stiff or intrusive, as I still arrived at the end of the drive around Tenerife without feeling taxed. The AMG CLE 53 slices through turns with much more confidence and precision than the CLE 450, encouraging me to push just a bit harder with each successive bend. Four-wheel-steering (maxes out at 2.5 degrees of rear-axle steering) is standard, but you only really notice it when you're maneuvering in tight spots, and that's a good thing. When you're having fun on a twisty road, it doesn't feel any different from traditional front-only steering.

In the Sport drive mode, the transmission does an impeccable job of selecting the right gear. It downshifts precisely where I'd normally tap the left paddle and remains in gear high into the rev range to extract as much performance as possible. I still like choosing my own gears, and the quick response from the paddles reinforces my preference. The aggressive side bolsters do get in the way of my elbows though, forcing me to move the steering wheel about an inch further forward than I prefer.

The 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system delivers an abundance of traction when pouring on the power, and you'd have to deliberately nudge the wheel to get the tires to make any noise. When driven conservatively, the AMG CLE 53 is well-mannered and appropriately comfortable for a sport-focused variant. For everyday duties, it's just as enjoyable, convenient, and easy to live with as the standard CLE.

Pricing has not yet been announced, but it's obvious the AMG CLE 53 will cost more than the CLE 450 4Matic Coupe that rings in at $66,800 (including $1,150 in destination fees). That price is right there with the BMW M440i xDrive, so it's possible the AMG variant could land near the BMW M4's price range between $80,000 and $90,000. I'm confident an M4 would outperform the AMG CLE 53 on a winding road or track, but the Benz holds an advantage in regard to comfort, luxury, and interior refinement. I also count the CLE's styling as an advantage when compared to the BMW.

Judging from the CLE's engine bay, it doesn't seem likely that an eight-cylinder AMG 63 would fit, so I wouldn't hold out for that possible beast. Then again, the forthcoming AMG GT would likely be a better choice for high-performance drivers, anyway. It's unclear if Mercedes will offer the AMG CLE 53 as a convertible, but one could hope. Considering the existing AMG body modifications, it's certainly not going to be as easy as sawing off the roof.

Overall, the 2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 Coupe is a logical and welcome addition to the touring-focused CLE lineup. It delivers plenty of excitement that the other models lack, while still providing impressive comfort and refinement. It's a classier alternative to the edgier BMW 4 Series as well as the comparably anemic Audi S5 coupe. Price may be the one variable that makes or breaks the decision if it's as expensive as a BMW M4 or Audi RS5. If your performance priorities come second to luxury and sophistication, the AMG CLE 53 is the clear winner.

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